A sculpture of a bear reading a book is seen in front of Auke Bay Elementary School on Wednesday. (Clarise Larson / Juneau Empire)

A sculpture of a bear reading a book is seen in front of Auke Bay Elementary School on Wednesday. (Clarise Larson / Juneau Empire)

Early release for elementary school students on Mondays approved by district

Ending school 30 minutes early intended to help teachers meet requirements of Alaska Reads Act.

Elementary school students will get out of school 30 minutes early on Mondays during the coming year, with the intent of giving teachers an extra hour for required training and other non-classroom activities, following the unanimous passage of the policy on Tuesday by the Juneau Board of Education.

The policy means elementary students will be released at 2 p.m. and optional programs at 2:30 p.m compared to the regular 2:30 p.m. release time for the other days of the week

The board rejected a proposed option by the Juneau School District’s Teaching and Learning Support office to have the early release apply to all students, with board members stating one of the primary motivations for the policy was targeted toward helping elementary teachers meet new requirements of the Alaska Reads Act.

“I know we’ve heard from the administration that there are valuable ways to use professional development time in the upper years,” said Brian Holst, the board member who formally proposed adopting the elementary-only policy. “However, given the potential disruption to our overall community (and) the opportunity to focus on early reading, maybe test this for a year to see how our community responds.”

The Alaska Reads Act, signed into law last year to boost literacy education for students in kindergarten through third grade, adds statewide requirements for teachers such as mandatory training. The early release policy approved by the board includes all elementary students to prevent additional costs or complications related to bus service or other logistics.

The district’s policy change is a modification to a proposal the board considered in May to start the school day 30 minutes later on Wednesdays for all students, which a district memo states was “a result of feedback from stakeholders and board members.” The early release option was considered and tabled by the board in June, with board members and district administrators differing on the benefits and drawbacks of applying the policy to all students.

An overview of four alternatives related to the new policy by district administrators, prepared for board members to consider Tuesday, states it would cost about $450,000 during the year for extra pay to school-based staff participating in training and other related activities, if their workday was extended by 30 minutes rather than ending school early. No additional costs are projected under the early release policy.

But the overview also notes the drawback of lost instruction time by letting students out early.

“Teachers and principals need to remain vigilant that (professional training and development time) is constructive and leads to improved student outcomes,” the overview states, adding another drawback is “families will need to make arrangements to have their children cared for during the 30 minutes of early release on Mondays.”

Among the concerns voiced by some board members Tuesday was if RALLY, the district’s after-school child care program, would still be available to students released early. Cassee Olin, the district’s administrative services director, said the program’s staff show up at 11 a.m. for preparatory and other work, “the staff is already there (and) there would be no need to have an extra cost for parents.”

Board member Elizabeth Siddon said she considers the elementary-only early release a good compromise policy that won’t disrupt pre-kindergarten programs or put an unreasonable extra burden on parents.

“I think that this solution is a much more targeted solution to the problem we were trying to address,” she said.

• Contact Mark Sabbatini at mark.sabbatini@juneauempire.com or (907) 957-2306.

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